It feels like the world has changed overnight, and knowledge management programs must take a hard look at what they’re doing to ensure KM priorities match organizational realities. APQC has many best practices and tools to help you with your KM strategy, but for a quick-and-dirty way to recalibrate and brainstorm where to go next, I particularly like the SWOT analysis. This simple two-by-two rubric lets you create an inventory of your KM program’s current strengths and weaknesses, as well as opportunities it can capitalize on and threats it must guard against.
SWOT Analysis Rubric
SWOT is a great way to highlight skills and assets that your KM team brings to the table and how they apply to the organization’s pressing problems. What does KM do exceptionally well, and how can those core competencies help the organization shift to remote work and learning, cut costs through automation, and ideate around a new go-to-market strategy? The differentiation between strengths and opportunities ensures you think about both the innate capabilities of your KM program and the relationship to business and market needs.
SWOT also forces some soul-searching about the weaknesses of your current KM effort and any outside threats that could put you at risk. You can’t make the current environment less volatile, but a hard look at where you’re struggling can motivate you to confront flaws and head off looming hazards. For example, if your KM team lacks deep expertise in technology and your organization is mounting an initiative to use bots to automate workflows, now is the time to start building tech savvy while strengthening your partnership with the digital office.
Any KM team can create a SWOT to figure out what knowledge is critical right now and where it should invest its limited resources (check out this article for a how-to on the knowledge SWOT technique). But as every support function battles for resources, I’ve a been thinking about the big-picture perspective. As a discipline, what are the strengths that KM brings to the COVID-19 era, and what gaps leave KM vulnerable? Where can KM jump in and really make a difference, and what are the biggest risks to its survival?
Below is a list of top KM strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats for 2020 based on my research and conversations with APQC members. This is a work in progress, so comment or message me to let me know what I missed!
- Relevant—KM’s main purpose is to surface information and knowledge so that employees can be informed and make good decisions. These capabilities are particularly essential in a fast-moving crisis, when leaders and teams are frantically trying to react to new scenarios.
- Adaptive—KM teams have evolved from back-office operators touting a standard set of services to internal consultants, scoping out projects based on changing business needs. This consultative mindset has allowed KM to move quickly and keep knowledge flowing, despite the shift to remote work and other unplanned process changes.
- Open and Helpful—The best KMers are natural problem solvers, communicators, and change managers with tons of innate empathy for the business groups they support. These interpersonal skills help KM teams sense emerging needs, come up with creative solutions, and market those solutions in way that garners broad buy-in.
- Vulnerable—The pandemic has obliged many of us to let go of our perfect, polished personas and be more real with one another, acknowledging the difficulties we face and the limitations of what we can do personally and professionally. This willingness to be vulnerable has, ironically, built trust between KM and other parts of the business.
- Invisible—Even when KM is doing great work, it often suffers from a lack of awareness. People either don’t know what KM is, or their notion of KM is very limited (e.g., they think it’s SharePoint or the intranet).
- Misunderstood—Even when people have heard of KM, it may not have the reputation it deserves. Sometimes the KM team has failed to outline and communicate a compelling business case. KM may also suffer from too many buzzwords, failed branding, and lingering unpleasant memories of past KM iterations.
- Inconsistently applied—Even strong KM programs can suffer from “pockets of excellence.” One team, function, or business unit is doing a whiz-bang job of sharing and transferring knowledge, but the practices are not standardized enterprise-wide, so all that great KM exists in its own silo. Localized KM can deliver value, but it is ill-suited to invoke an innovative, cross-functional response to the kind of crises 2020 has delivered.
- Difficult to measure—APQC has many resources to help organizations measure KM value, but this process is time-consuming and necessarily somewhat subjective. Even when leaders know KM is delivering benefits, it can be hard to assign an exact dollar value. This leaves KM vulnerable.
- Growing need—The crisis has made KM real for people. They are aware of both the benefits of good KM and the risks of ignoring out-of-date information systems, undocumented tacit knowledge, and cultural barriers to knowledge sharing. The value proposition for KM continues to grow as remote work requires virtual solutions and disorganized, hard-to-find content impedes innovation and rapid decision making.
- Cozying up to digital—Digital was hot before the pandemic, and many organizations are accelerating digital projects to cut costs, automate processes, and make work more touchless. KM can help digital teams understand user needs and manage change, and linking KM to digital transformation can help strengthen leadership support.
- Automation and AI—Digital is not just the latest buzzword for KM to appropriate. New technologies can help KM address pain points (e.g., content findability) while scaling more effectively and delivering more with a leaner, meaner team. When done right, digital capabilities can amplify KM’s value.
- Integrated solutions—The crisis and response have, in many cases, strengthened partnerships between KM and functions such as IT, HR, and learning. Going forward, there is a chance for these groups to join forces and deliver more cohesive cross-functional services and support to end users.
- Budget cuts—Money is increasingly tight as we emerge from, or continue to slog through, the pandemic. KM must fight hard for its share of limited resources. Programs will not survive intact without a crystal-clear business case and business-focused metrics of success.
- Short-term thinking—In a volatile environment, it’s easy for fear to take over. If leaders and business groups become narrowly focused on surviving today, and everyone takes their eye off the long-term sustainability of the organization, KM may start to look like a “nice to have” instead of an essential capability.
- Siloed thinking—Similarly, chaos and anxiety may incite people to protect their little corner of the business while losing sight of the big picture. Teams may hoard knowledge or decide they’re “too busy” to share what they know. Siloed thinking can also impede the KM team if it focuses on protecting its turf instead of partnering with complementary initiatives.
- Scope creep—KM’s adaptability and helpfulness have allowed it to act as a “first responder” in the pandemic response. But KM teams that stepped in to run virtual conferences, convert in-person courses to e-learning, and train employees on Microsoft Teams may struggle to extricate themselves from these extra-curricular activities. As KM flexes to support urgent needs, it must also protect its core mission: to facilitate the flow of critical enterprise knowledge.